Thursday, November 5, 2020

When I first saw this Keystone Press photo of U.S. Army Air Force men taking helmet baths on July7, 1944, I thought it had to be at some forward base in Normandy.  The IWM says, however, that it was somewhere in the UK.  Most American air bases in the UK during WWII had amenities such as showers, but maybe this was a temporary facility of some sort for the invasion of France.



  1. I think you hit the nail on the head. The date of D-Day was a very closely-guarded secret and "Operation Bodyguard" was put into action to mislead German aerial reconnaissance in respect of the deployment of the vast number of men and materiel assembling around the Southern English ports in preparation for the Channel crossing. Aerial bombardment of Britain by the Luftwaffe had more or less ceased but Allied air cover was essential for the invasion. Men and materiel were spread out under cover in the South of England to hide the fact that the invasion was imminent. D-Day was in fact delayed twice, owing to bad weather, because the aviators dropping the paratroopers behind enemy lines needed clear vision under a full moon. This image fits the historical facts. This was doubtless a temporary base prior to launch of the largest invasion force ever mounted in history.

    1. Yes, I read Gen. Patton's biography, and it said that his job for one stretch leading up to D-day was to command a phantom army around Dover of rubber inflatable tanks and cardboard artillery. They left all this out in the open to fool the Germans into thinking the invasion would be near Calais. It apparently worked, because Hitler refused to send his panzer reserves to Normandy until it was too late.

  2. By early adulthood, I had lost count of the times I had crossed from Dover to Calais - 28 miles, 36km - in what was and remains one of the busiest waterways on the planet. I have crossed it by ferryboat, hydrofoil, hovercraft and plane - and once in a RIB, which was an amazing experience. That leaves rowing or swimming it.

    I think I must have been 14 or 15 when I spent a half-term holiday with my French and Geography teachers in Normandy. My French teacher had a Double First Joint Honours in French and German from Oxford and was granted a bursary to avoid call-up to do a shortened war-time BA in English Literature - studying under C S Lewis and J R R Tolkien - so that he could join the team under Alan Turing breaking the German Enigma codes at Bletchley Park. By the time I came along, I believe he spoke 13 languages (including Classical Latin) fluently and was already the most eccentric man I think I have ever known. In retirement, he got another First in Mathematics. My Geography teacher was still in the Royal Navy Reserve and became a life-long friend.

    One afternoon, a wealthy local businessman who was a friend of my French teacher and had a small prop plane, treated us to a flight. We took off from the aerodrome at Beauvais - equidistant to the South of Amiens and Rouen - and headed out to the coast. He flew up the Channel to the North, at about 13,000 feet - the average altitude of the Spitfire - and I could see just how narrow that space of water really was. The motorways had yet to scar the Kent countryside and so the topography was still much as it had been during the Battle of Britain. We flew past the white cliffs of Dover, with Dover Castle on its promontory and the lighthouse built under the Romans and then entered Belgian airspace, flying over Waterloo and Flanders Fields as the whole weight of history came upon me. It was one of the foremost experiences of my young life.